Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
Antietam Preservation Volunteer Weekend Report
Antietam National Battlefield Park
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March 29-30, 2007
Our 2007 pilgrimmage to Sharpsburg was canceled in September this year due to the Antietam Anniversary events that would pull people away from the NPS and the Torch Light Tour. It was convenient to learn of efforts by the CCWRT to make this preservation volunteer work event possible in March. MaryLou and Blair Pavlik had worked with NPS Keven Walker to set up an opportunity to have a team of Connecticut people come for a week and volunteer at the park. About a dozen or more people did work at the park all week, including clearing brush at the Poffenberger Farm. The weekend crew would join them, and the efforts would be turned to clearing all the brush, trees, and all from the banks of the rise that the 11th Conn Vols monument sits upon, some 75 yards from the Burnside bridge. This is to allow full view of the monument from the bridge, and to create the start and end of a new loop trail the park is putting in this summer to celebrate the 145th anniversary. The trail will run from the 11CV monument, along the ridge of the hill on the east side of the bridge, all the way to the modern bridge on Burnside Road, then loop back again along the front of the ridge, and the meadow that is the floor of the valley, where so many Union troops crossed to to attain the bridge. This project is top on Superintendent John Howard's agenda this year, and so it was our privilege to be the fist volunteers to kick off the project.
Dan, Kim, Hal, and Chris met Scott and the crew at the Visitors Center about 4:00pm on Thursday, and proceeded to a very remote location, off taylors Landing Road. The road parallels the Potomac and the C & O Canal, a very impressive site indeed. We turned into a private dirt road to a Church of the Brethren camp, called Silver Springs. We were directed to a nice cluster of cozy and clean cabins, and a pavilion in the center with a fireplace and a barbaque grill. We determined to go out to dinner, and after a long tour of Hagerstown, Chris guided us to a fine German restaurant where we all dined and drank with great enjoyment.
In the morning, we went to the Battlefield Market, get coffee, and headed to the bridge in the back of Scott's pickup. Once there, the rangers outlined the plan, handed us saws and clippers, and fired up this massive chipper and dump truck, capable of swallowing an eight inch tree without even burping. Our band numbered 30, and we went at it for about two hours, when break was called, and it was incredible how much had been done. Tress dropping, brush dragging, wood litter raking, and of course the chipping.
Lunch was back to the Battlefield for a few sandwiches, then right back to work. It went about the same, happy, tired, were we all, when at 3:30, we called an end to the day.
After a long, hard day of clearing brush and woods along the sight line from the Burnside bridge to the 11th Conn. Vols. monument at Antietam National Battlefield Park, our band of six gay reenactors determined to walk the land where the 8th Conn. Vols. stood in line of battle at the start of the eventful day. We were armed with a series of Ezra Carman maps locating the positions of the lines throughout the day. We proceeded to the east of the bridge, and up the farm lane of the Henry R. Rohrbach farm. The lane traces a little gully with a branch creek, and also the NPS boundary, on the left. On the right, was a fenced field and woods containing several large beef cattle.
Let me note that the modern topographic map we also had with us showed the H.R.Rohrbach property within the boundaries of the NPS, but upon entering the farm lane, a gate prominently displayed several private property signs, and all the warnings associated. We still strolled up the lane rather quietly, on our mission, and rounded the bend by the house to look around to see if any residents were at home. We heard a piece of small engine equipment running and figured someone was there. We peeked around the bend and spotted a person rototilling the garden. A short council of war almost determined that we should just give it up and go back from whence we came. Our malcontented comrade was not satisfied by the democratic decision, and piped up that he was just going to go over and ask to walk the land. All instantly agreed that that was the right thing to do, since we had nothing to loose.
We approached the old farmer, and waited until he was heading the tiller in our direction to wave to him, and flag him down. He pulled the machine to a stop, turned it off, and came up to us with a tightened face. I told him we were interested in the Civil War, and if he knew of the locations of the Connecticut soldiers on the farm. He shouted back at us, who were we looking for? I asked him if this was the Rohrback place, and he said yes. We repeated that we were looking for Connecticut soldiers positions. It became clear that the old fellow was quite hard of hearing, as he shouts back at us, that he has been working the place for over 13 years, and never heard of anyone by that name. We repeated our questions again, and this time we were shouting. It seemed to work. The gentleman brightened, and said that Massachusetts was a long way away, and that we were free to walk the farm. Then he launched into a diatribe about a new black bull he put in with the cattle, and that he could not be trusted. He used some Ethiopian epithets for emphasis. He emplored us not to cross any fence lines, for danger of the black bull. We agreed, and thanked him kindly. He told us of letting several friends come on the place, to hunt deer, coons, turkeys, and that he was a great night coon hunter himself. We hoped he did not have a rifle in the pickup today.
We wandered to the crest of the hill beyond the garden, and took some bearings from the map and the land, and locations of the buildings. It seemed that every fence line had some fancy tree stand on it. We concluded that the Connecticut battle line location was to the east side of the farm, and set off over hill and dale towards that place. We reached a long fence line lined with round bales all along its front. We concluded that this entire fence line was the front of Harland's brigade. We passed to the rear of the line, and surveyed the locations of the artillery and the other positions on that part of the field at the dawn of day, and the opening of the battle. It was quite a personal high point, after years of visiting the battlefield, to truly be standing on the first line of the old 8th. The maps were pulled out, and the retirement from this line contemplated. The line was moved to the rear and to the left, since they were under accurate artillery fire on this line as soon as the sun came up. That movement would have been deeper to the east, and then south towards the Nathan Rohrbach place.
We elected not to walk that way, since we were unsure of the bull's location, and there were fences to cross. We also did not have the energy to double our trip, and the nerve to trespass again. Very elated, we trooped the line, and began our return to the farm and to the lane. As we passed the garden, we thought it would be the neighborly thing to do to go over, and say thank you and goodbye to our new old farmer friend. We approached this time, and gave a shout, which startled him from hoeing, but brought a smile.
He stepped up to the fence, in traditional farmer style, leaned across it to us, and commenced a hearty conversation with us. We were welcome to come back anytime, just tell anyone that Harry Messick said it was okay. He told us he was planting strawberries, and that last year he had set out over two thousand plants. I told him I loved strawberries, and he replied he hates strawberries. He told us that he used to pick apples, and that the owner of the orchard would take an apple, bite it, say they would be ready to pick next week, and pitch the apple on the ground. He said he grows strawberries just so he can pick them. He told us that he always starts early so that he has them first, and is not afraid of the frost, for if the blooms have that little yellow thing in them, they will not freeze. He told us that he likes to trade favors for help, and that he offered a friend to turkey hunt anytime, but he said the man always comes during the winter when there is nothing he needs help with. Harry also told us that he was an old moonshiner, but had not had a drink since 1953. He told us the last beer he bought cost 16 cents. He always had friends looking for clear liquids in quart bottles. He had West Virginia plates on his old white pickup, and we imagined him racing along the old byways on the hills across the Potomac.
We once again said goodbye and thanks, and we all shook hands, waved as we left, and trudged back down Rohrbach's lane, back to the park, and back to the camp. All in all, it was the best possible outcome of a big adventure with the past and present history of Sharpsburg. We told one of the park maintenance people about our encounter later that evening, and he simply said, "Oh, Harry, you almost have to shout at him...".
Once back at camp, we all took turns hogging the hot water showers, and joined everyone at the pavilion for a hot dog and hamburg cook-out with all the trimmings. It was back to the cabin and to bed, and we got up and made a carbon copy of the day before.
Saturday evening, we invited Rev. Delancy Catlett out to the camp to visit us, and give him an 8CV donation in person to his Sharpsburg UCC Churh project to restore and preserve the Connecticut stained glass windows which were installed in the church by Connecticut veterans in 1891. We were please to make his acquaintance and review a binder full of stories about the windows, including the original bill of sale, from Tiffany's, for the amount of $375. We all had great conversations, and headed off to bead once more.
Sunday morning we arose, packed, and headed off from the hills of Sharpsburg back to the hills of Connecticut. It was a great experience and a wonderful memory of so many friends working together. Our great thanks go out to the NPS and Keven Walker, and to the Pavliks for making it all happen. And thanks to all our friends, now made closer through this special shared experience. This was one of the best trips yet.
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.